Tuesday, June 22, 2010

How many confessions is the PC (U.S.A.)'s 219th General Assembly voting on?

How many confessions is the 219th General Assembly voting on? Two you might answer. And that would, in a sense, be correct. One study committee is asking the GA to adopt the Confession of Belhar. Another study committee is asking the GA to allow them to work for two more years on the Heidelberg Catechism as they work with two other Reformed denominations toward a new translation.

But another confession is being introduced to the PC (U.S.A.) through Item # [08-08], Review of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches/Caribbean and North American Area Council of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.

One of the affirmations the General Assembly Committee on Ecumenical Relations is asking the GA to make in item 08-08 is # 4 “Integrate and interpret the Accra Confession and the historic commitments, along with the life and work of the WCRC/CANAAC, throughout PC(USA), its congregations and presbyteries.” (Bold mine)

The Accra Confession pops up throughout the document.

For instance, # 9 in the document states: “Request the General Assembly Committee on Ecumenical Relations to contact the coordinator for the Committee on Theological Education and seminary organizations to provide briefings on the new realities of WCRC/CANAAC, and to ask PC(USA) seminaries (including seminaries in covenant agreement with the General Assembly) to include the Accra Confession as a study document.”

In the rationale this:

“A key WARC focus has been the dissemination of the Accra Confession so churches can use it to affect their local contexts. Through study of the biblical and Reformed perspective on economic life and justice, as well the study of how economic processes work locally and globally, the Accra Confession creates space for a healthy debate and for hearing the voices and concerns of women and men, young and old, people from the Global South and the Global North. The hope is that member churches will act as agents of transformation in a manner that goes far beyond the church…”

After that is listed, under bullets, how the confession might be used. An example is, “Continuing to build theological consensus faithful to the Reformed ethos and the Word of God to ground social justice.” Another is, “Supporting the development of contextualized models for Reformed Theology and Bible study that use local and global contexts as a resource to address issues of economic and environmental justice.”

So as one might suspect the Accra Confession is an economic document. And I have noticed in my research on the Confession of Belhar that it is always looming over the shoulders of Belhar. For example a conference at Stony Point, a PCUSA conference site, several months ago featured this Confessing When Empire Trembles: Belhar and Accra Confessions in Conversations.

The Confession can be read at The Accra Confession: Covenanting for justice in the Economy and the Earth. But basically the document insists that such economic views and intuitions as capitalism and the World Bank are biblically unfaithful. (They may or may not be depending on the day, the year, the era, the context.) The Confession itself admits that it is not a confession in the traditional sense.

As the authors put it:

“Faith commitment may be expressed in various ways according to regional and theological traditions: as confession, as confessing together, as faith stance, as being faithful to the covenant of God. We choose confession, not meaning a classical doctrinal confession, because the World Alliance of Reformed Churches cannot make such a confession, but to show the necessity and urgency of an active response to the challenges of our time and the call of Debrecen. We invite member churches to receive and respond to our common witness.”

Nonetheless Accra is being used in a classical way since its creators enjoin all other churches to embrace and confess it. The problem is that although it rightly describes the needs and sufferings of the world it often caricatures the political views it disagrees with and then more or less banishes them from any Christian world view.

For instance this:

“12. In classical liberal economics, the state exists to protect private property and contracts in the competitive market. Through the struggles of the labour movement, states began to regulate markets and provide for the welfare of people. Since the 1980s, through the transnationalization of capital, neoliberalism has set out to dismantle the welfare functions of the state. Under neoliberalism the purpose of the economy is to increase profits and return for the owners of production and financial capital, while excluding the majority of the people and treating nature as a commodity.

13. As markets have become global, so have the political and legal institutions which protect them. The government of the United States of America and its allies, together with international finance and trade institutions (International Monetary Fund, World Bank, World Trade Organization) use political, economic, or military alliances to protect and advance the interest of capital owners.”

While Christians always agree that it is biblical to care for the poor, needy and oppressed, they can and do disagree over the best way this is accomplished. Neither socialism, which Accra points to, nor capitalism which it points away from are biblical mandates. That a so called confession, such as Accra, should so carelessly be pushed off on commissioners at the General Assembly only adds to the mistrust that is growing among many denominational members.

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I have noticed that Accra is always looming over the shoulders of Belhar. I looked today at the new advice placed by The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP)on Sacramento’s overture #
[16-01] to not adopt Belhar. The ACSWP has disapproved #16-01, and in their rationale for disapproving they use Accra with Belhar to make their point. I will write about that in my next posting.


Jordan said...

This is a good discussion of the challenge that the PC (USA) faces in the context of the Accra Confession. I've just written a new book that discusses Accra and places it within the broader ecumenical context.

I'd be happy to send you a review copy if you are interested. The title is, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness.

Viola Larson said...

Hi Jordan,
yes, I would like to receive a copy for review. My e-mail is v.larson@att.net.

Jordan said...

Hi Viola,

You can fill out the form here with your mailing info and we'll get you a review copy. Thanks!